Don Rosa In Review – Return to Duckburg Place

So… there were some delays since my last Don Rosa in Review came out! I’m sorry about that. You can thank Dr. GeoX for inspiring me to put out this little birthday present to myself. I had waited for two Don Rosa books to come out to allow me to better discuss the material in relationship to his development as an artist, one being the Fantagraphics release, the other being the third volume of the Don Rosa Classics. I’m not holding my breath on that last one coming out any time soon, more’s the pity, but I do have the Fantagraphics releases. With them, I finally, finally have an opportunity to go through Don Rosa’s Duck stories the way I had intended!

Well. Except for one. Return to Duckburg Place was written in 1970 with Ray Foushee, who also collaborated on ‘a handful of [Pertwillaby Papers] episodes’, and is technically the first Disney Duck comic Rosa ever worked on. I say technically because it was produced as an underground comic, starts with Huey Dewey and Louie smoking pot, and actually gets more messed up from there. While this comic was published in European territories as part of various Don Rosa collections, the more uptight Disney of America wouldn’t allow publication of this story in the Don Rosa Library. I was fortunate enough to find a copy from an acquaintance to work with for this column. Funny what happens when Disney tells him not to publish things he worked on that fans want to read: somehow, it gets out there anyway.

This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. This is why you see Zip-A-Tone on most of the characters, later used to remarkable effect on The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. It is also easily the darkest thing he’s ever done, outdoing even his “Casper the Dead Baby” jokes made during conventions and interviews.

I really, really hope he’s joking. It makes sense the more you think about it, just look at that head… but anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to Don Rosa in Review than this, with Return to Duckburg Place.

Summary: Don Rosa holds nothing back in a dark, satirical, amateur production that slams the Disney Duck world and its characters, and I laugh hysterically at the thought of this same guy being most well known for his heart wrenching, brilliant stories that thrive on extreme pathos. Everyone has a dark side, and this is definitely his.

The rest:

db-place1 (600 x 809)

The story begins with the now college-aged HDL in their dorm room, ranting about the evils of capitalism screwing over the little guy who makes it all possible (and unintentionally foreshadowing his exit from comics, I noticed – an appropriate but disturbing bookend). They rant about their various Barksian adventures, as they and Rosa are wont to do, and fun is had by showing their Junior Woodchucks handbook is used to pay tuition by selling its secrets to NASA, while also serving as their college textbooks. Frankly, I don’t blame them on that last one, 45 years later and the textbook system is still as corrupt a system as ever. The triplets’ plan, with typical college logic, is to blow up Scrooge’s money bin to help redistribute the wealth.

Also shown here: the one time I had a conversation with an actual communist.
Also shown here: the one time I had a conversation with an actual communist.
db-place4 (1024 x 1375)
The real reason The Deadly Assassin is not a tautology.

Meanwhile, Donald’s decided to take a more direct approach to dealing with Scrooge’s continued miserly nature – he plans to murder Scrooge in cold blood and redistribute the wealth to him, himself, and he. Some pretty good jokes are thrown in there as Scrooge avoids the assassinations with appropriate comic timing, and Donald is repeatedly blown up or otherwise cartoonishly injured by those very attempts. It’s structured more like a Warner Brothers Looney Tunes than any of his other work, but without sight gags in those style. Very fitting considering – well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Interspersed between the two plots are the fates of other Disney comics characters. The fates of Grandma Duck and Gladstone are particularly dark, though Goofy and Chief O’Hara make surprising cameos. Amusingly, he kills Mickey off screen rather than draw him, which is my favorite pot-shot of all.

You can feel his love for the non-core Duck characters.
You can feel his love for the non-core Duck characters.
Credit where it's due: this is the best suicide joke I've ever seen.
Credit where it’s due: this is the best suicide joke I’ve ever seen.

HDL’s plan, which has taken place in their University dorm, collides with Donald’s murderous efforts by sending a miniaturized bomb capable of blowing up the Money Bin, which Donald triggers during his coin polishing (more of an Italian Disney habit, but we do see Donald doing this again in The Money Pit).

This is even better if you read Cash Flow right after this.
This is even better if you read Cash Flow right after this.

Scrooge is, of course, out of the Money Bin when it explodes, and the coins fall in a deluge on the city that probably caused more property damage and death than the Money Bin could pay for, though that’s my inference based on the tone rather than what we see on screen. During the triplets celebration, Dean Gyro Gearloose storms in and uses the bug he planted in the room to show he caught them… after the fact, rather than before, which is either a plot hole or a shot at Gyro missing the obvious solution in favor of something silly. That bug is, in fact, Silly Symphonies character Bucky Bug, because why not? Further cameos are made by the Three Little Pigs, a Beagle Boy, and the true long lost father of Huey, Dewey and Louie.

You know what, this is funny enough that I'm just calling it canon.
You know what, this is funny enough that I’m just calling it canon.

We get our homage to Only a Poor Old Man, and for a moment, Donald considers whether it’s worth kicking Scrooge when he’s down. This is his moment. This is what he is in the dark, like Scrooge with the opal all those years ago in Australia.

I've seen Robot Chicken skits less messed up than this comic.
I’ve seen Robot Chicken skits less messed up than this comic.

What we learn from this is that if Donald had been with him in that cavern, I’m pretty sure he would have beaten him with the opal and sold it to live on his own private island. And at the bottom of the last page, there’s a dedication to the works of Carl Barks and the Walt Disney Corporation.

Now that’s funny.

This story is dark fun, nine pages that almost make you wonder if Rosa was hit by a personality altering ray by the time he wrote Son of the Sun. For what it is, it’s well executed, though I think it might have been better to extended it a page or two to give the sight gags room to breathe without dialogue cluttering the panels so much. That may just be my wanting to see more of the twisted side he seems to have poured in to this comic, like a madman’s Kolinahr.

The only actual stumbling point is the art, which is fairly crude and lacks the detail he would become famous for. But his style is there, formative though it is, and that works well enough. I’ve never read MAD Magazine, but I suspect that this gives you a glimpse in to the future of a Rosa who literally followed in the footsteps of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, rather than just taking a great deal of inspiration from them. This was a treat to read, and I hope by the final volume of the Don Rosa Library Disney reconsiders its stance on an American publication. The thing’s already all over the internet.

This is not the end of Don Rosa in Review, though I sure don’t expect a hiatus quite like that again without a coma involved. I’ll be shooting for updates every other week for his work from now on, starting with Last Sled to Dawson. And with all there is to talk about in the story where Rosa really finds his feet, it’s going to be a whopper.


27 thoughts on “Don Rosa In Review – Return to Duckburg Place”

  1. I’ve always been puzzled by the last panel. Did Donald kill Scrooge, or not ? Because of the black and white, I could never decide whether that puddle pool near Scrooge’s hand was blood, or Scrooge’s tears.

      1. The hat, alright, but the line could definitely be taken both ways; in the “tears” version, I saw it as Donald saying= “Phooie, I always wanted to do that, and now I’m giving up when I could do it… If only I really kew why I’m doing that !”

      2. There are even liquid bits coming off the stone, differing from his typical motion lines. But unless I hear otherwise from the horse’s mouth, I’ll say it with absolute certainty: Don Rosa killed Scrooge twice in his comics.

    1. Alright, I’m convince.

      PS: Er… not necessarily twice. Fun thought: perhaps the drawing of Scrooge’s grave takes place in the world of this comic, and the reason Donald is so reluctant to tell Daisy about the whereabouts of Scrooge’s final adventure is that he’s hiding that he killed him, having cooked up the lie that the rock just fell on Scrooge’s head during the explosion of the money bin.

      1. This is a discussion I’ll have after I cover The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (but feel free to ask him what he considers Scrooge’s fate to be if you ever see him at a con – trust me, it’s a wild answer.)

      2. You mean, that weird story about Scrooge faking his death, hiding his money bin under the see and going to live with Goldie ?… I have already read about it from our dear friend GeoX. Which is a good thing, too, because I’ll probably never see him for real; I’m French and his last visit to France was quite a long time ago… Personally, I consider neither of the two/three versions, because I don’t think Scrooge ever died, period, going by the Italian tradition.

    1. It is pretty surprising, but funny nonetheless! I don’t think you can make a parody or satire quite like this without real love for the source material, my little joke on the credits aside. I truly hope Fantagraphics reprints this, even if they have to do it in the final volume of his series.

      1. I’m gonna give you a heads up: this has never, ever been an effective way to get someone to do things faster. It is, however, a pretty good way to annoy me. Cool it.

      2. I know it wouldn’t be if I were serious, but I was just acting here, trying to find funny ways to ask you for the review: I first made the pleading asking of a child (the “Christmas” thing), here I was trying the “grumpy” way… But I didn’t mean it seriously, as I told you.

      3. I have made my point. This isn’t a thing I’m going to concede to your point or argue my own, I was very clear and there won’t be further comments on this.

  2. Excellent look over at this story! Indeed, I agree that this couldn’t have been made by anyone who wasn’t a massive fan of Barks, someone with genuine passion for the original comics. In that sense it costs me little to believe this is the same Don Rosa that gave the world The Life and Times of $crooge McDuck and the ridiculously detailed organization of Duck Comics’ continuity.

    Something I really appreciate here is Rosa portraying Donald’s attempts at murdering Scrooge…in an actually sympathetic light. Which is doubly interesting because that is much more effective after reading ROSA’s canon work, not Barks. Back in the old master’s comics, Scrooge and Donald had themselves a relationship that, sure, was contentious in a frequent basis, but to accept Barks’ Don driven to murder his Scrooge, one has to suspend disbelief. One has to concede this is all a dark parody where anything goes.

    Whereas if you read all of Rosa’s work, with a relationship between rich uncle and unlucky nephew that is much more at odds, to the point of being downright toxic at times…and with the addendum of Rosa’s Donald often getting in trouble through no blame of his own…Well, this changes from being suspension of disbelief to actually being like “This’d never happen in the official Rosa…But I can -totally- see it!”

    I’m a big fan of your blog, Review, and very much looking forward to see more of your understanding of Rosa’s work, as hinted in some comments over at GeoX’s blog. Specifically, I’m remembering your take on a certain “unforgivable incident” from The Last Lord of El Dorado, and boy am I excited to see more on that. Have yerself a grand year!

    1. Everyone should read The origins of Lance Pertwillaby direct from the coc-reator of the strip back in the early 70s.

      This is pure absurdist fun, relying on the corruption of our academic institutions.

      People running for President like Bernie Sanders understand the power of feeing free tuition z instead of large debit balances.

      Beyong Episode 66 or so, things change.

  3. “This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. ”

    Whaaat? Are you telling me there are two unofficial Don Rosa Duck comics out there I have never read before? What are these other two unofficial Don Rosa Duck comics?

    1. Yes! One is the one-panel “Whatever Happened to Uncle Scrooge?”, and the other is “The Annual Speedskating Race of the Burg of Ducks” which was written by Nils Lid Hjort (and what a fantastic job those two did on a not-Disney comic!). Though with the publication of “Whatever Happened to Uncle Scrooge?” in the Fantagraphics Don Rosa Library, I wonder if it can be called unofficial anymore…

      I intend to cover both of them. But that’s for a bit later. Believe it or not, the first one has a fair bit of significance for the purposes of this series.

      1. “Whatever Happened to Uncle Scrooge?” will always remain unofficial, I think, in the sense that it is not officially registered by Disney as canon. Speaking of it, and regardless of my headcanon where Scrooge didn’t die, there’s something I don’t like about this panel: the nephews are dressed in different outfits. I think it’s a mistake, since a fair bit of their whole point is that they’re completely identical to each other.

      2. Let’s clarify something, since I quite accidentally helped spark a terrible comments thread recently in a way that made me dead tired of discussing the canonicity of anything. There is no official Disney canon to speak of within Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck’s traditional comics. And for the purposes of this blog, there is only a canon in how Rosa interprets his and Barks’ stories in relation to each other and his own stories, and Disney’s general acknowledgment of certain things as important/valid or not.

        He specifically describes the Olympics story as being an imaginary one, for example, since it took place in the present day rather than his vague 50s-60sish period. The Rosa/Barks canon, filtered through my own interpretation, is what I will be discussing here. There are things he thinks about his stories that I disagree with, and I’m certain he’d find my own interpretation to be disagreeable for similar reasons. I’m speaking for myself, my viewpoints, and doing this review series and subsequent analysis as a matter of fun. This is not the place for me to proclaim enlightenment above all others regarding how his stories should be read, because there is no correct way to view the stories. It is up to your interpretation, your own sense of fun, and if you just don’t care and like his stories, that’s just as valid as my own way of reading them.

        That said. Due to a few lines, I consider that comic to be very, very important to the way he writes Scrooge… and equally important to the way he seems to view his own slice of the Ducks’ world. I will discuss it in detail when its turn comes around.

      3. I know, I know. About the Olympics story, he is not as radical as you think; according to his self-commentary, he originally wrote the story as taking place during the 1952 Olympics, and that the only reason it became a contemporary one was because of the orderers’ insistence that he should draw a cup similar to the modern one. Thus fans may “disregard” that part of the scenery and think of the story as a slightly tweaked version of events having happened in 52.

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